“It has been a historic week for English football, with Liverpool, Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea inspiring children, adults, prime ministers….” So tweeted the British Prime Minister, Theresa May. Her tweet came just when the English Premier League itself was rounding off the 2018/2019 season which runs from August to May. Prime Minister May is right to gloat over this which apparently is an achievement under her leadership for we are told that this is the first time in European football history that all four finalists for both the European Champions League and the Europa League are all from one country which is England. So, it is a sure banker bet that the two most prestigious and coveted football trophies in Europe will be residing in England for the next 12 months at least. Were it in Nigeria, this would be listed as a great achievement of the ruling party at the time and used as a veritable campaign tool…
On the last match day of the English Premier League (EPL) itself, their Nigerian fans, who happen to be their largest followers in Africa by virtue of our population, were not that too excited about its outcome. This is in contrast to all the hype and electric fever in England about who the eventual champions would be between Manchester City and Liverpool. Why? Because Nigerians’ favourite clubs were not in contention for the EPL cup. In Nigeria teams with the highest number of fans, that is fanatical fans, die hard supporters are, (in no particular order), Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea. Viewing centres in Nigeria take this into reckoning in that they give preference to these three clubs in determining which matches to show. And so it was that on Match Day 38, fans thronged to viewing centres not really excited as such about who would be crowned champion but to see the last match of their favourite teams, to see the last football action of their favourite stars. Since all the matches were being played simultaneously and most viewing centres could show two matches at same time, it meant they could not show all three favourite teams. Those who could not see their club in their neighbourhood had to go to other places where it was being shown or go sit at home to follow the games on the internet. Only the neutrals as such were really interested in watching the Manchester City/Brighton or Liverpool/Wolves match, both leading clubs being primed to finish first and second by the result of that last match.
If any of those three popular clubs was in a position to win the trophy on that final day, you would have felt the electric atmosphere in major cities of Nigeria. And were any of them to have won it, the victory would still be reverberating across Nigeria to this day. Such is the passion with which Nigerian youths follow the EPL, borne out of the advent of satellite/cable television in Nigeria. The springing up of viewing centres nationwide was an attempt to ‘democratise’ viewership due to DSTV/Multichoice’s sole EPL television rights in Africa. Bent on maximising its monopoly, DSTV charges exorbitant fees – over N14,000 per month – for subscribers to have access to those sports channels where the premier league and champions league matches are transmitted live. Considering our epileptic electricity supply and the fact that we do not stay glued to our TV sets 24/7, this amount is inconsiderate for the average Nigerian. Most Nigerians therefore consider it cheaper to patronise viewing centres at N50 and N100 per match in northern and southern Nigeria respectively. Attempts by Nigerians to get DSTV/Multichoice adopt pay per view are still unsuccessful.
Multichoice may believe it is giving its customers something to cheer with its current promo package of Supersports 7 and Supersports 8 channels for its low level subscribers. But football fans say these channels are of little use to them as they relay only Italian Serie A and La Liga games. They say that apart from Spain’s Barcelona (because of Messi a.k.a. world best) and Real Madrid to a lesser extent, as well as Juventus’ new signing Ronaldo in Italy all the other clubs in those countries do not interest them. The fan base of the best club in those two leagues is far less than that of the top six clubs in England. Nigerian fans rank the EPL as the best worldwide and they pitch their tent with England whenever England is playing against another country or any English club is competing with those of other nations for international laurels. Attendance at viewing centres confirms this. Operators of viewing centres lament when English clubs are knocked out in early stages of UEFA championships as it translates to bad business for them.
In this wise they say that the fact that two of the three English clubs with highest fan base in Nigeria made it all the way to the finals of the Europa cup is good business for them. They are expecting a ‘cracker’ and a full house on the day of the final to determine who lifts the cup to its home base between Arsenal and Chelsea. Similarly they say notwithstanding that both Liverpool and Tottenham (which the Europeans call Spurs) are not among clubs with huge following in Nigeria (in comparison to Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United) they are expecting record attendance on the final of the champions league for the simple reason that both clubs are English. The manner in which both teams reached the final, upturning wide goal deficits has given motivational speakers and their ilk concrete examples with themes like, ‘Never give up’; ‘nothing is impossible when you set your heart to it’, etc. Another lesson which the two English clubs taught last week is hard work. I hope our youths in particular will imbibe this.
Worthy of note is that the highest goal scorers for the just concluded EPL are Africans, namely, Mane, Aubameyang and Sallah with 22 goals each. They each went home with the golden boot award. It means Africans made a mark this season. Disappointingly, no Nigerian was on the radar. There is no Nigerian player among England’s top four clubs, namely Man City, Liverpool, Totteham and Chelsea. None of them plying their trade in Europe has won anything this season yet –domestic titles or European cups.
Ikeano, a journalist, writes via [email protected] 08033077519